Dalton Utilities’ Optilink television customers may face mid-year rate increases because of higher fees from content providers such as ESPN and CNN, utility president Don Cope said Monday.

“We’re not recommending that you do anything right now,” Cope told members of the utility’s governing board. “But you need to be aware that the variable cost of providing the service increases each year.”

Cope said the utility has not determined how much television rates could increase. Last month the board raised the cost for basic television by $2 a month, while enhanced and digital service went up $4. Basic service is $36.95 a month, enhanced is $45.95, while supreme is $68.95. Optilink currently has 7,538 customers.

Optilink content charges per customer have increased from $14.64 in January 2004 to $16.06 in January 2005 and to $18.66 in January of this year, Cope said.

“That’s not adding anything new,” he said. “That’s using the same numbers and the same quantity/quality of stations and the same content.”

Cope said utility officials are considering expanding Optilink, which includes phone and Internet service, outside the city and into Whitfield County. Dalton Utilities has $20 million set aside in this year’s budget for Optilink expansion. Cope said he does not know if the utility will use that entire amount.

“If I can make it make money, we’d use it all,” Cope said. “If you can only make money on a portion of it, you’d only use that portion that you can get a return on.”

Cope declined to say where the expansion might take place, but said he will present the board an expansion plan within the next two months. Because Dalton Utilities does not own power lines in the county, all new construction would be placed underground and would result in higher rates for customers in the expansion areas.

“The rate we will recommend for those new areas of service will reflect the higher cost of doing underground installation,” Cope said.

In 2005, Optilink produced $5.37 million in revenue and had $6.88 million in expenses. Cope said approximately $2 million of the expenses was “depreciation” expense that the utility reinvested into Optilink.

In other action:

• The board met in executive session, which is closed to the public. After the executive session, the board reconvened in public session and voted to put out to bid an estimated $2.7 million expansion of the sewer collection system for The Farm, which is at the edge of Dalton’s city limits. The board also authorized Cope to try to purchase approximately 600 acres bordering the utility’s Land Application System in Murray County.

• The board put out to bid the 2006 electric reliability project. Cope estimated the project will cost approximately $1.5 million, with the utility paying $445,042 for materials.

• Crews have begun construction on the utility’s new electricity substation at the Old North Dalton School grounds off North Hamilton Street. The substation will supply power to several carpet manufacturers in the area. Cope said the project will cost $2.4 million.

• The next board meeting will be March 20 at noon at Dalton Utilities, 1200 V.D. Parrott Parkway.

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